Students Rising Above with Wendy Tokuda

CONCORD (CBS SF) — After surviving war in his homeland as a boy along with years as a refugee in hopeless conditions, a young Afghan man whose family resettled in Concord has graduated from college and is now setting his sights even higher.

Musadiq Bidar graduated at the National Mall in the shadow of the Washington Monument. He got his degree in Journalism from George Washington University. “You walk past the White House and the Washington Monument and you’ve got Lincoln on the other side,” he said. “You’re just kind of looking around, like, ‘what am I doing here?’” Actually, there is no setting more perfect for his accomplishment than the nation’s capital, because Musadiq’s story is the quintessential American Dream.

He was born in the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul. Americans learned about the Taliban on the television news, but Musadiq watched it from his window. Almost daily, his mother would take them into the basement to hide during the day, emerging only at night. “My mom had blankets against the windows so just in case a bullet was fired, the glass wouldn’t come through the window and hurt us,” he remembered. “I’d tug on the blanket, telling my mom to take it down because I wanted to see the sun. Because basically we were all prisoners in our own home.”

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Musadiq’s father was a government writer and radio broadcaster who spoke critically about the Taliban. That made their family a target. A bomb fell on his house, killing his grandfather and injuring his dad. “They were after him,” Musadiq said, speaking of his father. “He knew it wasn’t just going to be my grandfather who was going to pass away. It was going to be more dangerous and he was afraid.”

So they left the home his father built from scratch and everything he had worked for and escaped to Pakistan, taking only what they could carry.

They lived first in a small mud hut in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Musadiq could cross it in four or five steps. All seven family members slept on the floor, sharing only two ground mats and several pillows. The camp was overcrowded; food and water were limited. His mother would mix a small amount of powdered milk with a bottle of water to feed him – basically milk-flavored water. “My family was in a constant state of starvation,” he said.

Later, they moved to Islamabad where his father could look for work in the carpet industry. But he barely made enough for the family to eat. At the age of six, Musadiq joined him working at the rug factory. They worked 12-hour days, “sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with 19 other people in a small, stifling room.” There was no time or money for school.

Then one day came news that they were granted refugee status from the United Nations and their petition for a visa was granted. “Words can’t describe the feeling,” he said. “It was probably one of the happiest days of my life.”

His family settled in Concord where Musadiq enrolled in school for the very first time. He had never learned to read or write, no did he speak English either. It was a culture shock to see girls being educated alongside boys, and even more impressive, “The girls were allowed to raise their hands and ask questions,” he said.

It didn’t take long to catch up with his peers. By the time he was selected by Students Rising Above, Musadiq was attending The Athenian School – a private college prep school in Danville – on scholarship. “It’s wonderful and it’s amazing he’s here and has overcome,” his teacher, Kal Balavenkatesan told us then. “But to think about a child going through all the stress and struggle he had to go through in Afghanistan. No human being should have to go through, let alone a child.”

Musadiq’s family was there when he graduated this year from George Washington University in D.C. “My mom was crying tears of joy,” he said. “She understands it’s not just me who’s going through all of this. It was her, too, and my father and my siblings as well.” It was his parents’ dream that their children would get an education. “It just tells you that the American dream is alive and well,” he says.

Journalism has always been his goal, and Musadiq got a job right out of college at CBS News in Washington, D.C. His history will bring something important to the industry. “I think we’re going to need those kinds of fresh ideas in the newsroom.” Some day we may see him on TV.

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